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Tuesday, August 11, 2020



The Honda Goldwing motorcycle first saw the light of day at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in October 1974, as the flat-four cylinder, 999cc GL1000 Gold Wing and was released to the world for the 1975 model year.

While this firstproduction version of the now famous Goldwing was ultimately deemed to be a success (it was after all the birth of a legend), it's place in the world of motorcycling was not entirely cast in stone at the beginning. Part of the reason for this was the fact that the GL1000 didn't really fit properly into any particular motorcycle class, even though it was officially tagged as a tourer. Weighing in at 584lbs dry, it was far too heavy to be called a sports bike and the upright sitting position also helped to kill of any such sporting pretensions. The rear coil spring suspension wasn't up to the job of handling all the weight when the rider was pushing it through heavy going, such as the winding country roads that all bikers love (at least occasionally) to tackle. The total absence of touring kit fitted as standard didn't help the official touring image either, Honda didn't make their own saddlebags and trunk available for the GL1000 until it's last year of production in 1979, in spite of promising to do so in 1975. A Honda fairing was not even an option until the GL1100 Interstate was released in 1980!

Honda's claim that the GL1000 was a tourer must have rang hollow in the ears of many owners keen to have their machines kitted out for the job. It's almost like the design team had a picture of what they wanted to make, but no clear idea of where to fit it once it went into production. More than one GL1000 owner has told me that their early impressions from the press reports was that Honda seemed to be more concerned with emphasising the outright straight-line performance of the beast, and cementing it's role as a proper touring motorcycle seemed to be of secondary importance at the time. One has to bear in mind that Honda (and all the other major motorcycle manufacturers) were trying to develop many models in the 1970's, this being the biggest boom time for motorcycles ever, period. This was a time when everyone and his sons bought motorcycles and paying attention to the needs of different types of riders (cruiser types, racers, commuters, tourers etc.) must have been very difficult during those hectic days.

Nevertheless and in spite of all the confusion about the Goldwings role in life, the GL1000 proved to be a very reliable motorcycle, quite capable of going very long distances without missing a beat and almost immediately the aftermarket fairing & pannier suppliers started to cater for the requests of those who wanted to use the GL1000 for more than just popping down to the shops or Sunday morning posing at the local meet. This is what finally gave the Goldwing it's place in the motorcycling world, it really became a touring motorcycle because it's owners shaped it into one and Honda, always keen to keep an ear to the ground, listened to what the customers wanted (just as well too or they might have killed the Goldwing off before long, not least because expected sales of the Goldwing in the first year of production were less than 10% of what Honda had predicted) and started planning the next incarnation of what has turned into a legend in the world of touring motorcycles.

In the meantime, 1976 saw the standard GL1000 unchanged, apart from a badly needed grease nipple on the driveshaft.

A limited edition LTD model was rolled out alongside the standard model and the LTD had some nice badges, pinstriping, a better seat, flared mudguards, gold coloured wheels and spokes and some more nice but otherwise unimportant cosmetics, all at a fairly hefty extra cost of course. The LTD version of the GL1000 was only available for that one model year. 

1977 saw the first tentative model changes based on customer feedback to Honda (hands up all those who can remember filling out those early questionnaires at rallies) and the Goldwing got higher handlebars with neoprene grips, dual contoured saddle and chromed heat shields on the header pipes. Chromed upper engine mounting brackets were a nice touch. More importantly, the steering head bearings were now tapered rollers instead of quick-wear & seize ball types. Front & rear engine and rocker covers were now thicker and this was designed to reduce noise, but no-one really noticed. The fuel tank had an internal coating applied to prevent rust.

Smaller carburettors, shorter valve timing and increased spark advance in 1978 were designed to give the GL1000 increased roll-on performance in top gear, which translated into slightly less top speed but more torque, which apparentlyis what the long distance rider needed. The camshafts were severely detuned in order (along with the carb revisions) to improve low speed performance. It's generally accepted that these well-meaning changes really blunted top-end performance, while doing very little good for the low-end. 
The fuel, coolant temperature and voltage gauges were fitted to a pod and mounted on the tank, which made fitting a tank bag rather difficult, but few really objected as they looked good. The awkward but functional kick starter was omitted this year (the broken ankle brigade may have sparked fears of litigation) and the troublesome wire wheels were replaced with five spoke Comstars, although they didn't fare much better in terms of longevity. Gone was the worry about rusted or loose spokes on wire wheels, now owners were fretting about cracked rims and loose rivets on the Comstars.

The stepped saddle was introduced this year and has been a feature of all Goldwing models ever since. A fully chromed exhaust system which didn't rust as fast as the earlier painted ones, rear indicators moved from the frame to the rear mudguard and shocks with much welcomed and long overdue two-stage damping (in addition to longer forks & springs) completed the picture. The beast still handled like a brick when pushed hard, in spite of the new FVQ (often called fade very quickly) shocks and the better forks. The new exhaust made the machine sound livelier and the smaller mufflers allowed easy access to the clutch, which was just as well as this was a problem area on the GL1000 in those days.

1979 saw big discounting on GL1000's as the replacement model was eagerly anticipated and the last remaining numbers of the original (quite large numbers too and new GL1000's could still be sourced from storage for several years after production ceased) could be had with some minor changes in the shape of a then very cool looking CBX style tail light with two bulbs, rectangular indicators and brake fluid reservoir and black brake and clutch levers instead of the previous unpainted alloy ones.

This last year for the GL1000 was an opportunity to lose some of the excess weight and regain some of the performance the model had lost in previous years (particularly in 1978), but alas a final opportunity to remedy some of the more persistent GL1000 problem areas was lost and the cosmetics were the only areas attended to at the end of the decade. Thus the Goldwing continued it's slide down the credibility scale until the 1980 model year. Honda managed to keep the lid on the replacement for the GL1000 until the last possible moment. To this day and to their credit, Honda are probably better at keeping secrets than the CIA or the KGB etc. The GL1000 bowed out at the end of it's production cycle a bit less powerful and slightly heavier than the first models at 604lbs dry.



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